With eight freshmen added to its lineup this semester, Penn men’s soccer may have a path to redemption after a weak offensive showing last season.
The incoming octet is not short of accolades. Three of the newcomers were captains of their club or academy teams, and several found considerable success with teams they played on just this past summer. Midfielder Nick Schimbeno, defender Jack Rosener, and goalie Nick Christoffersen all played in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoffs this year, and midfielder Alex Kades advanced to the semifinals in the U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships.
Fellow midfielder Kai Lammers was especially productive this summer, arriving at Penn fresh off of his win in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy National Championship. Having won two championships in the past two years and having been asked to participate in the U.S. national team camp for his age group last year, Lammers' name is one to watch.
The freshman class includes three students from abroad, adding some new perspectives to a team that previously had no international players. Defender Firas Kora and forward Thomas Robinson hail from Benin and Hong Kong, respectively, although their time at boarding schools in the Northeast have acclimated them to life in the States.
While adjusting to the challenges of college soccer, Christoffersen says that it isn't much of a major transition from his time at an academy in Canada.
“[It’s not] too much different, but it helps to have a team by your side, guys that are fighting for the same purpose," he said. “To me that’s the most important thing."
The new Quakers are starting their college careers with a good foundation of experience, too. Five freshmen were involved with soccer academies before Penn, with Lammers even playing for two academies simultaneously. But while these academies require more of their players than club soccer, the freshmen agreed that the pressure is on at the college level.
“In the academy, there were times when you could slack off and not be totally hurt for it," said Kades. “But if you slack off here, there’s people on top of you. Your teammates care a lot; they’re yelling at you, making sure you’re doing the right stuff, but it’s all coming from a good place."
“The speed of play is a little faster and a bit more physical," Kora added. "You’ve got to be at the right place at the right time and fighting for it."
Christoffersen believes that even though a lot more is demanded of you in the collegiate game, most of the same things are expected of the freshmen as in their high school careers.
“It's a step up in intensity and purpose here, but I think it’s just a different play style and getting used to playing at the college level," he said. “It’s different, but a lot of it’s the same things: your effort and what you put into it."
Some freshmen seem to already be looking at playing professionally after college, even while they adapt to expectations at Penn.
“Stepping up from the academy to here I think is a good transition and practice for when we might make that next step in the future,” Lammers said.
This might seem like jumping the gun to some, but this future-focused mindset can prove to be advantageous. While they are still adjusting to the rigors of college-level soccer, these new freshmen have a clear idea of what is on the line moving forward.
“I think the stakes are obviously higher. Being in a college game, there's something you’re fighting for, which is winning an Ivy League championship, so we are all trying to buy into that, which makes everything more intense, every moment much more important,” Schimbeno said.
The team will be looking to find its groove quickly, as the Quakers kick off the season this coming Friday at Monmouth. While Christoffersen’s goalkeeping could help the team continue its impressive defensive performance, Penn badly needs to light a spark offensively.
These fresh faces may just be the key to ending the team’s scoring woes.